Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas bubbles

Majella Sparkling Shiraz, one of my favourites
Christmas is a time to break out from our regular patterns and try some fun or celebratory alternatives to drink. Friends drop in, we entertain more and perhaps such entertaining takes on a different flavour?

Drinking standing up and nibbling on finger food is always quite a different proposition from sitting over a table or lingering over a meal.  Finger food is rarely intended to be the main event, so neither should be the wine. Look for wines that will keep your palate alert to enjoy the many different flavours the finger food will offer.

There is always a role for champagne. As Madame Lily Bollinger, said “I drink it when I¹m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I am alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I¹m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it - unless I¹m thirsty.” (Daily Mail, 17 October, 1961).

Champagne is a term which should only be applied to wines produced under strict regulations from a carefully delineated area in northern France.  In Australia, we have many superior sparkling wines, especially since (and often with the assistance of Fresh champagne houses) we started using a similar technique and the classic French grape varieties of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier. We also have other value-for-money sparkling wines. So there is something to please at every price point.

The romance begins in the cellar. Here still wines are made and then carefully selected for blending: from different years and vineyards to make the Non-vintage champagne which should maintain a consistent house style every year; and wine or wines all from one year to produce a special, Vintage champagne identified by year on the bottle. Once blended, for traditional “methode champenoise” the wine is put into champagne bottles with sugar and yeast to create the second fermentation, the sparkle - hence the term “bottle fermented”.

After some time the bottle is placed in a rack and the process of “remuage” begins. The bottle is gradually tilted and turned into a more and more inverted position so that the dead yeast cells which have done their job gradually move to the neck of the bottle. This is then “disgorged”, by freezing so that a solid “plug” is pushed forth by the gas now formed within the bottle and a “dosage” of sweetened wine added to fill the bottle and finish the champagne. When a champagne is referred to as late disgorged or having spent time on yeast lees, this means it has stayed in the bottle, perhaps for many years, with the yeast cells until disgorgement just before release. This gives the champagne a highly desirable yeasty, bready character. French vintage champagnes spend a miminum of three years before disgorgement and Non Vintage champagnes one year. For an Australian wine to be called Methode Champenoise it must have spent at least six months maturing on lees.

The method is the same for different styles of champagne, just the  ingredients vary. Rose champagne or tache is made by adding a shot of  red wine to the dosage liqueur.  Or it can be made entirely from pinot noir with the juice left on the skins for a short time after they grapes are crushed, to give a pretty pink hue. Brut is the driest of all champagnes those with a  higher sugar level are Demi Sec and Sec, this being achieved by adding a  sweeter dosage after the second fermentation. 

Sparkling reds, ideal for Christmas drinking, are not simply the coloured cousins of white sparkling wine.  The base wine needs some bottle age first and may be matured in large oak. Sparkling red can be made from different red base including cabernet, pinot noir, malbec and durif, though the favourite is shiraz. Christmas to me says sparking red whether it be accompanied by turkey,  pork, ham or new age salmon, with a light red fruit or berry dessert or  even the Christmas pud. However, my all-time favourite is duck of any description, but preferably Peking duck! Then again, it's great as an  aperitif ... or just a drink!

There is something just so special about real champagne.
Taittinger NV - $95 I’ve been drinking this for years. It is distributed by my friends at McWilliams.
Bollinger NV – $90  James Bond’s favourite – but I still prefer Sean Connery and Roger Moore to Daniel Craig!

White Sparkling
Clover Hill Vintage Cuvee 2008 is a consistently good premium wine from Tasmania $49.99
Tempus Two Pewter Sparkling Pinot Chardonnay $31.99 is worth drinking for the stylish bottle and label alone. But the inside is just as good!

Rose sparklings
Chandon Brut Rose 2008 is a blend of chardonnay and pinot noir. Chandon were one of the first to make premium sparkle in the Yarra Valley and they still do it with style.
Taltarni Tache 2010 this has been a favourite ever since we drank it for my daughter’s Christening in 1985. It’s still as good!

Red Sparkling
Peter Lehmann Black Queen Sparkling Shiraz $42. Peter Lehmann is one of my dearest old mates and this is one of the best going.
Majella Sparkling Shiraz 2008 $29 per bottle in a pack of 6. Thanks to Majella for their support of Cheese Alley at the Good Food and Wine Shows in 2012. We’ll do it all again in 2013!
Peter Rumball Sparkling Shiraz $26.99 from my fellow Libran, but he now also has a sparkling Merlot too which is a little more savoury and so complements different dishes.

Just for fun
Mini bottles of Brown Brothers Vintage Sparkling  Moscato, Moscato Rosa,  Moscato and Cienna all in mini bottles from 200 – 275mls perfect for summer parties. RRP 4 bottle fridge pack $19.90; single bottle $5.90 

Note these are all recommended retail prices so they can often be bought for less.
Happy festive bubbles to you and your family

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Christmas ham - tips and tricks

With Christmas upon us, locations, numbers and menus are being decided for the all-important Christmas feast in households everywhere. One dish that will feature on the menu in many homes is the ham. 

Hams can be bought at varying prices and the difference between the supermarket soccer ball ham and the more expensive hams can be hard to understand. When choosing a ham for Christmas, there are many variables which impact on the taste and quality of the ham. No two legs are the same and there are seasonal changes in the flavour of the pork. Interestingly pigs feel the heat as much as we do and do not eat as much in the middle of the summer. Fortunately, the pork needed for hams is produced well before this.

There are various ways to transform a leg or piece of pork into a ham and the good news is there’s a size and shape to suit almost everyone. The more commercial producers may inject the brine and then tumble the hams to reduce the curing process to as little as 12 to 24 hours and increase the weight but as with all things there are traditionalists such as Pino Tomini Foresti and his wife Pia, owners of Pino’s Smallgoods at 45 President Avenue, Kogarah in Sydney’s south.

Pino with one of his magnificent hams

Pino’s family has been making ham for seven generations and supplying the Australian market since his arrival here from Italy in 1973. Pino uses only Australian hams that take ten days to prepare. Pino takes great care in the preparation of his hams, using no additives, which he claims makes his hams safe for pregnant women to consume and chooses legs with a good amount of fat covering. He produces a ham which is a cross between the English and drier Italian style, brining it for 8 to 10 days. Then, they are baked and smoked for 16 to 24 hours using his secret combination of woodchips and seasonal herbs such as rosemary, sage or fennel.

Pino makes hams in every size from a 1.3k mini up to a 12kg whole ham on the bone. A visit to his store is like visiting a meat and smallgoods Nirvana with a fabulous cooking school attached. It is well worth a foodie excursion.

Pino's curing room
I have always been a fan of whole leg ham on the bone, especially at Christmas or to entertain a crowd. For me a good quality ham should have a flavour balance between sweet and salty, not taste chemical, be moist but not wet and not be stringy or smell porky. It is important to remember that all legs are different and colour may vary between different muscles however the ham should have mostly all the same flavour.

Glazing a ham really makes it very, very special and keeps hordes happy. There are a few tried and true guidelines that I always follow for a fail proof ham at Christmas.

1.  Choose the best quality ham you can afford. In addition to using the tips I have given you above and doing a little more research, look out for the Australian Pork logo. Any ham on the bone is sure to be Australian but for boneless ham, you need to check.
Andrew Spencer, CEO of Australian Pork, stipulates we need to support Australian pork farmers stating “more than 70% of Australia's processed pork products (ham, bacon and smallgoods) have been produced from cheap, subsidised imported pork."  

2.  To remove the skin from the ham, place in a warm oven (160°C fan-forced) for 20 minutes. Cut through the skin about 10cm from the shank end of the leg. Run your thumb around the edge of the rind just under the skin and start pulling from the widest edge of ham and continue to pull carefully away from the fat up to the cut. Remove completely.  

3.  Using a sharp knife, score across the fat at about 3cm intervals, cutting just through the surface of the top fat. Do not cut too deeply or the fat will spread apart during cooking. Score in the opposite direction to form a diamond pattern.

4.  Brush your favourite glaze recipe (mine contains honey, mustard, dry sherry, soy sauce and brown sugar) over the ham (i stud mine with cloves) and bake in the oven for 45-60 minutes at 180°C (160°C fan-forced) or until golden brown, basting every 15 minutes.

5.  Serve warm or cold with your favourite condiments and accompaniments.

Learn more of my tips and tricks for a high impress and low stress Christmas on the Lifestyle FOOD channel this December. I have all of your needs covered for both a traditional Christmas feast and one with a more contemporary flair.

For my traditional Christmas tips, Lyndey’s Cracking Christmas will be airing on Lifestyle FOOD on December 10th at 8:30pm and the contemporary Christmas special on December 17th at 8:30pm, with repeats throughout each week. 

Lyndey’s Cracking Christmas viewing times

LifeStyle FOOD Australia
Traditional episode times
Monday 10 December at 8:30pm
Monday, 10 December at 11.30pm
Wednesday 12 December at 8.30am and 4.30pm
Saturday 15 December at 6.30pm
Sunday 16 December at 11.30pm
Monday 24 December at 3pm
Modern episode timesMonday 17 December at 8:30pm
Monday, 17 December at 11.30pm
Tuesday, 18 December at 8.30am and 4.30pm
Saturday, 22 December at 6.30pm
Sunday, 23 December at 11.30pm
Monday 24 December at 3.30pm

Food TV, New Zealand
Traditional episode times Wednesday 12 December 1pm, 5pm & 9pm
Modern episode times Wednesday 17 December at 1pm, 5pm & 9pm
Australia Network
Traditional episode time Monday 24 December at 5:30pm (Hong Kong time)
Modern episode time Tuesday 25 December at 5:30pm (Hong Kong time)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Guest post: William Wilson, Food & Beverage Manager & Sommelier, Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre

From pints to pinots

My road to wine started with a beer, quite a few of them actually.
Guests constantly ask me how I became a sommelier.  Perhaps they are surprised that a Scotsman would be so passionate about New South Welsh wine.  I’m sure they expect me to talk about scotch and how to save money.  They are usually surprised when I tell them my story.

I started my career in hospitality in one of Edinburgh’s many specialist real ale pubs.  Eight beer engines pumped out a constantly changing line up of guest beers.  I took my job seriously, sampling every new beer as they went on line.  The beers intrigued me, different styles and breweries from different regions with histories going back centuries.  Most of all I was excited by the different aromas and flavours.  I’d make tasting notes in order to explain the subtle differences between the beers to our customers.

The writer (left) as a young man

When I arrived in Australia the beer scene was bleak.  Bland, over carbonated beer was everywhere and premium beer tasted exactly the same as regular but had a gold label on the bottle.  Competitive advantage was gained by serving the same beer even colder than the hotel on the next corner.  If I was to stay in Australia, I would have to find a new passion. 

My 'Road to Damascus' moment occured on the road to Broke, almost twenty years ago.

My new employer organised a trip to the Hunter Valley. I'd visited breweries all over the world but Tyrrell's was my first winery. Being able to stand in the vineyard and see grapes being picked and walk 20 yards into the winery to watch the winemakers at work was a revelation, so different from brewing. It was the people that really made me understane wine. Murray Tyrrell stood in front of us and told us why he wouldn't sell out to the big boys despite the huge amounts of money that he had just been offered for the winery. Perhaps Murray's presence made the wines taste better that day; he did tell us that every wine we tasted was from the vintage of the century. I was hooked.

Murray Tyrell, legend

Instead of choosing places to visit according to the number of breweries, wine regions were now top of my list. Friends questioned why I would go to Adelaide when they were heading to Bali. Visiting wineries and hearing stories from the people who made the wines became my education in wine. When winemakers talked of vintages spent in the Northern Hemisphere I would seek out those wines and see how they compared. Great Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from the Yarra Valley and Tasmania were tasted beside whichever Burgundies I could afford. 

A trip to the Barossa uncovered some incredible wines. Chateau Tanunda was certainly lot more salubrious than the ironbark slab hut at Tyrrell’s. I tasted some of Grant Burge’s wines at Tanunda Cellars and again left with more wine than I could carry. A bottle of 1994 Meshach is all that remains of my early wine trips. 

More recently I’ve stuck to places closer to home. Winemakers from cooler climate regions of New South Wales, especially Orange and Canberra, are making some fantastic wines. I discovered incredible Riesling at Lark Hill, great Shiraz all over the region and some of the best Pinot Noir that I have tasted at Lake George. I also discovered that Australia has lakes that don’t have any water in them.

Philip Shaw in Orange was another inspirational visit. The cellar door is really the front room of his house and you are treated like real guests. The bloke who brings the wines over to you was the International Winemaker of the Year twice. I was even lucky enough to taste some of his wines from the barrel. His No. 11 Chardonnay and No. 8 Pinot Noir were my picks and his Idiot Shiraz is a bargain.  
Philip Shaw's Koomooloo Vineyard - cold climate wines
When Fine Wine Partners brought over the Court of Master Sommeliers to test the skills and knowledge of Australia’s top wine staff, I really didn’t think I would know enough to pass. My wine list is very focussed on New South Wales and the Court exams are mainly about old world wines. Despite never really selling many wines from outside Australia, I managed to become one of the first Certified Sommeliers in the country, simply having listening to as many winemakers as possible over the last 20 years.

Of course things have a habit of turning full circle. Over the last few years the number of interesting beers in Australia has skyrocketed. Wine lists in Australia are beginning to list a wide range of beers, not just the same beer with a different label but all sorts of different styles and matched up with different menu items. Beer is no longer just as a pre dinner drink and the best sommeliers know this. 

I always come across tiny craft breweries every time I visit a wine region these days. The craft brewing renaissance actually started in the Sonoma Valley in California. Perhaps the craft brewers know how much winemakers love a cleansing ale. Even winemakers like Lark Hill in Canberra and Moorilla in Tasmania are making beer. In fact they are making great beer.
The beauty of both wine and beer is that my education will never end. There will always be new people to meet and learn from and to share my own knowledge with. I’m glad I found my new passion and never lost the old one.